Glass of bubbly in one hand and the other clamped firmly on my thigh, the man sitting opposite lunged forward, muttered something under his breath and gave me a slobbery kiss. I reeled back in horror. Here I was on a first date and all I wanted to do was run out of the restaurant screaming. Meeting him face to face was a different matter, however. His photo was years out of date and he had lied about his height.
Six foot tall indeed. He was a midget with a comb-over and the conversational skills of a libidinous teenager. I have spent more than a year looking for love online.
I have subscribed to top matchmaking sites, gone on many disastrous dates and ended up shell-shocked and disillusioned. When I took my first tentative step into the world of online romance I had just come out of a seven-year relationship and was looking forward to meeting a man who made me feel special.
So I handed over my money to a dating site for professionals and waited. As I looked at the photos of my prospective mates, I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful men looking for love. There they were posing on the beach, standing by flashy cars or quaffing wine in top restaurants. They described themselves as thoughtful, honest, caring and fun. They loved nature, had lovely homes and buoyant bank balances. My first date was with an immaculately dressed year-old with salt and pepper coiffed hair who bleated on about his top job in IT and spent most of the lunch gawping at a group of something female students.
The next day I got an email saying we were not a match.
I found it easy to translate: Rejection, from a stranger, can cut deep. Pic posed by model]. But I had learned a brutal lesson. There are five women to every man on these sites so even the most unremarkable men start to believe they are David Beckham. In online dating terms, at 48 I am considered ancient. Even though the site I was on claimed to be for professionals looking for romance, a lot of the men are just trawling for sex.
It is so easy to misrepresent yourself online. You may be socially challenged in real life but in cyberspace anyone can pretend to be Leonardo DiCaprio.
When I met William, for example, I hardly recognised the cultured, artistic and caring individual from his profile.
Not only did he let me know the price of every item on the menu, sparkling conversation for him meant a detailed account of his favourite hobby: After all, I was beginning to find it creepy and it was expensive.
Yet online dating is addictive. Every morning I would check the sites to see how many messages I had. If I was particularly popular, the idea that I was desirable would give me a shot of confidence. In the end I started to measure my self-worth by whether or not complete strangers found me attractive. Silly as it might sound, I kept hoping my perfect man was only Am i a loser for online dating mouse click away.
That is when I met Paul, a handsome illustrator from Surrey.
I was just about to give up when his message pinged into my inbox. He was witty, serious and had a warm, deep voice. When we met the following week at a pub near his home, the chemistry was instant. By date two he said he loved me and after two weeks he had asked me to marry him. I should have seen the red flag.
He had desperate and possessive written all over him but the truth was I felt flattered. When I said that it was a bit soon he was furious and left me in the hotel without any transport back to the airport.